Delegation is a critical skill for leaders and managers who want to develop the capacity and capability of their teams. The quality of delegation in a business or team is usually fairly evident - typical indicators will be energetic, behavioural and cultural. So what are they, and what is a useful framework to ensure the quality of delegation in your business?
Common Indicators of Poor Delegation
One of the most common symptoms of poor delegation is mutual frustration felt by both managers and their direct reports: listen out for leaders bemoaning that ‘‘My people lack initiative” or “I need to stay involved in the detail” and their team members complaining that “My boss doesn’t trust me” or that they suffer from micromanagement.
A further distinction that shows up in the presence of poor delegation is between people who say they feel overworked - usually associated with negative energy and a ‘problem state’, and those who feel stretched (or even overstretched for short periods), which is typically a more positive energetic state associated with challenge and growth, even if it places a heavy workload on the person concerned. Overwork will be accompanied by anxiety, people ‘keeping their head down’ and by a focus on short-term time horizons. In contrast, stretch can be the result of constructive delegation or ambitious goal-setting and reflect the confidence of a leader in a team or colleague’s capability.
Whilst not an exhaustive list, typical behaviours that flow from poor delegation might include: framing situations as problems rather than challenges (which may be reasonable in the circumstances), the prevalence of checking rather than idea generation, a focus on tasks rather than visions or strategies, a tendency to ‘close down’ rather than ‘open up’ ideas and ironically, upward delegation (either real or attributed) back to the leader or manager who delegated in the first place. Attributed upward delegation typically sounds like: “I’ve spoken to (the boss) and they think we should do it this way”, which is a way of closing down other suggestions whilst avoiding taking personal responsibility for a recommendation or decision.
In businesses or teams where delegation is poor, the prevailing culture will tend more towards fear, blame and psychological insecurity, all of which inhibit initiative and personal development.
The prevailing mindset will usually be more closed than open, showing up as a resistance to new ideas or strategies and in a general sense of inertia.
Professional relationships may resemble adult:child in the language of transactional analysis with responsibility for poor performance assumed to lie with the recipient of the work, ignoring that the person or people in question were never set up for success in the first place.
Whilst poor delegation need not be the only reason for some of these symptoms, it is certainly a possible contributor.
The Three ‘C’s of Effective Delegation
Effective delegation need not be complicated or difficult. A little preparation and some simple tips can make all the difference for leaders, managers and their direct reports. Here is a simple framework you might like to try and then adapt to your own style and approach:
Start by addressing the Why:
- Why is there a need for the work in question to be done?
- Why are you delegating it?
- Why have you chosen to delegate it to the team or person in question?
Addressing the reasons why will bring meaning, purpose and a sense of value to the work, and assuming you position it respectfully, to the person to whom you are delegating it.
To delegate effectively, you will need to be clear about all of the following:
Whether you are delegating responsibility for the performance of some work, or assigning (rather than delegating) accountability for the ultimate outcome(s). If you are unsure of the difference, see this blog post which explains it.
The reasons why the work is needed (see above). Once this is clear, invite thoughts and ideas and build agreement about the whats: what will need to be done, what is the timeframe, what are the resources that will be required, what are the limits to any delegated authority and what will success look like. This is the strategy, measures, metrics and authority to deliver the desired outcomes and may take more than one meeting to complete.
Only once the strategy is agreed, invite your report to develop the hows i.e. the detailed plan of action.
Note that as you move from the why, through the whats to the hows, the amount of discretion you are delegating increases.
One of the overarching aims of all delegation is to cascade capability and capacity into the business. However well you delegate, it is likely that your colleague(s) will need to ask further questions or seek your input at future points, and every such instance creates an opportunity for coaching. Resist the urge to ‘tell’, which is tempting when you are under time or other pressures, and instead seize the opportunity to ‘ask’: invite and guide your team member to bring their own ingenuity to the challenges they encounter and if you need to make a decision for them, explain your process and reasoning so that they can model it next time.
Set expectations at the outset about the form of support you will make available and how best you would like your reports to avail themselves of it. For example, schedule a regular progress review and make clear that in each case, you would like your colleagues to bring one key challenge they are grappling with to that meeting with their ideas about how to meet it, and having decided what input they need and want from you to do so.
Explain that a key objective of delegation is their professional development, so that any such reviews are seen as opportunities for growth rather than criticism.
In summary, effective delegation takes a little preparation and a mindset that embraces every delegated project or task as an opportunity to develop capability and capacity in a business, team or individual. The three Cs of effective delegation explained above offer a framework from which to develop your own style and approach.
Well done, delegation can be one of the most rewarding and motivating aspects of management for both managers and the colleagues in whom they are entrusting the work.
If any of the above signs of poor delegation ring true for you, Planned Ascent can help by providing business coaching and applying our simple framework to your business and the specific challenges you face. Contact us or call 0345 222 5618.